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Homeward Bound: The Choice Is Yours

Matthew 7:13-14

You can tell that my vacation time is fast approaching, because my mind is turning to golf—that most divine and most devilish—that most heavenly and most hellish of our earthly pursuits. I recently came across a wonderfully humorous little book on golf entitled: Mulligan’s Laws: A Lifetime of Golfing Wisdom From the Genius Who Invented the Do-Over. Here are some of Mulligan’s Laws:

  • A golf match is a test of your skill against your opponent’s luck.
  • Since bad shots come in groups of three, a fourth bad shot is actually the beginning of the next group of three.
  • A ball hit to the wrong green will always land two feet from the hole.
  • If there is a ball in the rough, and a ball in the bunker, your ball is in the bunker. If both balls are in the bunker, yours is in the footprint.
  • No matter how early your tee time, there will always be a foursome in the middle of the first fairway.
  • Any time a golfer makes a birdie, he must subsequently make two triple bogies in order to restore the fundamental equilibrium of the universe.
  • The only thing you can learn from golf books is that you can’t learn anything from golf books, but you have to read an awful lot of golf books to learn it.
  • Mulligan’s greatest law: It’s often necessary to hit a second drive to really appreciate the first one!

In the game of golf, there is that wonderful little gift called “a Mulligan”. On the first tee you can hit a second drive. You can do it over. In the game of life, there is no “Mulligan”. This life is all we have. We cannot do it over. Therefore, we have to do it right the first time.

Let me cut right to the chase. One day we are all going to have to stand before God and render account for the way we have lived our lives. What are you going to say then? Are you going to say: “Lord, I dreamed all of my life of owning a Mercedes and when I was 45, I finally got one. You should have seen me driving down there on earth—it was splendid and I was proud”? Or are you going to say: “Lord, I want you to know that I spent a lot of time taking care of this body you gave me. In fact, I was so good-looking that any time I walked down the shopping mall I could just feel those heads turning to look”? Let me tell you that God’s not going to be impressed. He is going to say: “I don’t care how you handled your positions or your possessions. I entrusted you with one eternal treasure. How is it with your soul?

How is it with that part of you which is made in my image? How did you handle that?

A few years ago, a tabloid carried the story about a house fire where, when the firemen arrived, they found a man in a burning bed. They woke him up and got him out before he was hurt. After they put out the fire, they asked the man the obvious question: “How did this bed catch on fire?” He replied: “I don’t know. It was on fire when I lay down on it!” So bizarre was that statement that Robert Fulghum took it and wrote a whole book about it. In that book he asked: “What makes us do the foolish things we do in life? What leads us to such stupidity in the choices we make? What would make a human being lie down on a bed that’s on fire?”

Do you remember the story from the Bible about the disciples being out in a boat one night and they got caught in a terrible storm? The wind and waves were just about to sink the boat. And do you remember how we are told that Jesus came toward them walking on the water? And then do you remember that suddenly Simon Peter jumped out of the boat and headed toward Jesus? Well, until the other day, that’s all I ever saw in that story. But suddenly, I found myself asking about those other disciples. What’s so amazing is that while Peter had the faith to step out, the other disciples had the stupidity to stay in. Why didn’t they get out? Why did they choose to stay in the storm even though a solution was in eyesight? Why do we lie down on beds that are on fire? Why do we stay in boats that are sinking?

The Lord gives us a choice. He says, “There are many things in life you cannot control, but there is one thing you can. When it comes to eternity, I am going to leave it up to you to decide. You can stay in that bed that’s on fire if you want to. You can stay on that boat that is sinking if you wish. Out of all the things on earth you cannot control, there is one thing you can control—and that is where you will spend eternity. I will let you make that decision. The choice is yours.” Jesus was never more clear on this matter than in Matthew 7:13-14. The choice is clear. There are two gates—narrow and wide. Two roads—hard and easy. Two destinations—life or death.

In life, there are two gates—narrow or wide.

We can choose eternal joy over fleeting pleasures. In the walls of the city of Jerusalem, there is a large gate that was built for caravans. It is called the Jaffa Gate. It was built large and wide so that caravans of camels and donkeys laden down with goods and furnishings to trade could enter the city of Jerusalem. Down the wall there is another gate—it is small and narrow, barely large enough for a human being to pass through. A camel could get through that gate only if it was stripped of all the goods on its back, and only if it was forced down to its knees. The only way to get through the gate was on its knees and free from possessions.

That’s the picture that Jesus was drawing here. He was saying that the only way to get into heaven is to enter by the narrow gate. You have to unload all your possessions; you have to humble yourself; you have to get down on your knees. In other words, if you are not willing to lay aside the fleeting pleasures and possessions of this world, then you’ll never know the eternal joy of heaven.

I need to be specific here. There are certain pleasures in this world that in order to say “yes” to them, you have to say “no” to God. Does this mean that God doesn’t want us to have pleasure in this life? Of course not. We are God’s children, and His greatest desire is for us to be happy. But there are certain things in life He has told us to stay away from—and to say Yes to God, we need to say No to those things. You see, those things God has put a fence around are things that ultimately create despair and destruction. Last Tuesday, a large contingent of people, including many people from our own church, appeared before our city’s zoning board. The board was considering a request to significantly expand the Fairvilla Adult Cinema and Bookstore, purveyors of obscenity in our community. One of the great laymen from our church, Bob Hewitt, said to the board, very simply, but very powerfully: “Don’t do this. It is a choice which will lead to destruction.” Thankfully, the board heeded his advice. But you know, when Bob Hewitt said that, he was simply echoing his Christ. There are two gates. One is narrow; one is wide. In life, we can choose fleeting pleasures or we can choose eternal joy. Jesus says: “The choice is yours.”

And in life there are two roads—hard or easy.

We can choose the highlands over the lowlands. When I think of an easy road, I think of Interstate 95. I don’t take it to feast my eyes on scenic beauty or to refresh my soul. I take it because it’s fast. It’s dotted with service stations and fast-food restaurants. It gets me where I’m going quickly and easily, but there’s nothing beautiful about it. When I think of a hard road, I think of the path out on the Colorado Rockies which leads up to the Mount of the Holy Cross. There are no stop lights or 7-11’s on the road. It’s not crowded, and it’s a tough climb. But when you reach the top, you find a great cross at the summit. There the air is pristine; the view is supreme, but the journey is difficult.

Jesus says that we can take the easy road through life. It’s the one where most people travel, and there are all sorts of conveniences along the way. Or you can defy the odds and go against the peer pressure and take the road that’s difficult to climb, but when you reach the top, you find the thin air where Christ is.

A man takes a sales job with a new company. He finds that the salesmen with this new organization—well, it’s just kind of the way you do business—you skim a little bit here and you fudge a little bit there and you add a little padding to the expense account. At the water cooler, during coffee breaks, even during the sales meetings there are the whispered pressures from his colleagues that if he’s going to succeed there he’s got to do business their way. Finally, he yields to the pressure. He takes one step, then another, and then—well, it becomes so easy!

A young girl decides early in her adolescent years that she’s going to save her purity until after marriage. She has a circle of friends with a different idea. They start working on her. Then she picks up a magazine which says: “It’s all right. Everybody does it.” Then she turns on MTV where she is told that having physical relationships is part of being true to yourself. Louder and louder the voices around her get. Finally, the pressure is overpowering. She yields. She turns away from the hard road and follows the easy one.

Jesus says: “The easy way leads to destruction. But if you take the tough climb in life, then when you reach the top, I will be waiting for you.” Hard road or easy? Jesus says: “The choice is yours”.

Then in life there are two destinations—life or death.

We can choose heaven over hell. Kathy Tulp, one of our members, while reading Guideposts came across the following thought: “Where will you be sitting in eternity? Smoking or not?” Lighthearted twist on a serious subject. Are you aware that one out of twenty verses in your Bible talk about heaven or hell? Do you know that out of the 216 chapters in the New Testament there are more than 300 references to the consequences of choosing the way of Christ or the way of evil? If we are going to major on what the Bible majors in, then we need to realize that there will come a time when we shall have to stand before God and He is going to ask us about the choices we made in life. Make the right decision. Choose heaven. Of all the things you want to be sure about, you want to be sure about heaven.

You see, I believe that there is a real heaven—a place of eternal union with God. And I believe there is a real hell—a place of eternal separation from God. And I believe that we are destined for one place or the other for eternity. So if sometimes you wonder if there is frequently an air of urgency and intensity in my preaching, it is because I believe that I must make myself available to be a channel by which the spirit of God can reach the non-believer and the casual believer. You see, I love to say that I am determined that no one in this parish shall perish!John Welch was a great Scots preacher of another day. At night he would kneel by his bed and pray for his people. His wife would say: “John, come to bed. It’s too cold.” And he would reply: “Dear, I have the souls of three thousand to answer for, and I do not know how it is with many of them.” I understand. I pray for you. Every day I pray for you. I have the souls of nearly 5,000 people to answer for, and I do not know how it is with many of you. So I shall continue to preach Jesus Christ for all I am worth, and to call people to surrender their lives to Him before it is too late.

Can I tell you something? I believe that in eternity you will remember this moment. I really believe that. And some of you will look back on the moment and say: “I am so glad that he challenged me on that Sunday. I am glad that he took a few minutes at the end of that sermon to ask me to be sure that I was going to heaven. Because I decided that day to make sure once and for all. I decided to choose life over death, to choose heaven over hell. I decided to follow Jesus, no turning back, no turning back.”

You see, it is your decision. Your friends can’t make it for you. I can’t make it for you. I wish I could, but I can’t. I’m not asking you to join a church or a denomination. I’m not asking you to do something you can’t understand. I am simply asking you to say: “Lord Jesus, I want to be on your side. Count me in. I want to be yours. I want to be yours now and forever.”

Can you say that?

It’s up to you.

Jesus says: “The choice is yours!”

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